Sacred woods, sweet smokiness, and a damask rose turned dark and dry. It’s the tale of Oumma, but only a small part of it. Saffron, leathered Burmese oud, singed mesquite, and dancing wisps of sweet jasmine are also involved in a shape-shifting story that twists and turns. It twists so much, in fact, that I experienced two fundamentally different versions of Oumma, depending on where I applied it. It can be either the saga of darkened, mystical woods, or the story of a rose dying on the vine from smoky dryness. You will hear both tales.
Oumma is a 2013 fragrance from Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 (hereinafter just referred to as “SHL 777” or “777“). All the fragrances are created by Monsieur Lucas, who used to be the in-house perfumer for SoOud and Nez à Nez. Up to now, the 777 line was exclusive to Europe, Russia, and Middle Eastern, but there is excellent news. The complete SHL 777 line will be coming to America in a few weeks, including the stunning amber, O Hira, that was previously contractually limited to Harrods and Printemps, and such new releases as Qom Chilom and the mandarin-ginger-immortelle-tobacco scent, Une Nuit à Doha. They will be carried at Luckyscent and Osswald NYC. I have samples of the complete line, thanks to the generosity and kindness of Monsieur Lucas, and I will be going through them, one by one (though with some breaks and not all in a row) so that you will be well prepared when 777 hits the stores.
Oumma is listed on some places as being an eau de parfum, but it is really an Extrait like the other fragrances in the 777 line, all of which have a concentration around 24%. According to the press release documents that I was sent, Oumma is described as follows:
A mastery of contrasts at the service of agarwood
Perfume of Communion, deep.
Egyptian Jasmine, Moroccan Rose,
Peruvian Balsam, balsam tolu,
Ashes of cade, burmese oud, nagarmotha [Cypriol].
There is more to Oumma than that. Elsewhere, I’ve read that the base also includes 3 different types of roses, while I myself smelled saffron in the fragrance, along with some sort of ambered type of resin. In his correspondence with me, Monsieur Lucas confirmed the saffron, and said that there was also a cistus/labdanum derivative called “dynamone.”
He wrote that, for him, Oumma is almost a religious fragrance in its aromatic wooded essence:
Pour moi, Oumma est assez “religieux”. C’est une vapeur “médicinale” chic à la précision “horlogère”. Une suie de bois de ouf fine comme de l’albâtre moulu, une mécanique des fluides ajustée et persistante. Les mélodies magiciennes de la clarinette et du hautbois.
[For me, Oumma is rather “religious.” This is a chic “medicinal” scent done with the precision of a watch. Soot from wood, as fine as grounded alabaster, with fluid mechanics, adjusted and persistent. Magicians of clarinet and oboe melodies.]
He also talked about how Oumma is meant to represent “heaven and earth” with the dark, balsamic resins intended to act as a concrete foundation for the more mystical, spiritual and abstract elements, like the cade which he used in order to add a “baroque” touch. In short, for Monsieur Lucas, Oumma is not meant to be stereotypical “oud” fragrance, so much as the evocation of something more abstractly spiritual by means of finely tuned, multi-faceted woody smoke.
Monsieur Lucas never talked about roses in his discussions with me about Oumma. He focused only on the woods and the cade. I think that’s significant, because he clearly doesn’t mean for Oumma to be yet another interpretation of a floral oriental, a rose fragrance, or a rose-oud-saffron combination. It’s also important because a simple rose-oud-saffron fragrance is not what I experienced on a number of occasions. In fact, what emanated from one arm was substantially different than what wafted off the other. Such discrepancies occasionally happen to me, though infrequently. (I’m starting to wonder if it is an issue of pH balance, perhaps?) Rare as such differences are, I now try to test fragrances on both arms whenever possible, as I did here with Oumma. The result was a fragrance that was totally different in its focus for first 5 hours or so, even though a portion of the middle phase and all of the final drydown were the same in both instances. So, I’m going to have to give you two different breakdowns for Oumma.
Oumma opens on my skin with smoky, sweet, singed woods that are musky with almost a suggestion of horsey leather and a strong whiff of mesquite. The oud is not medicinal like band-aids, not fecal, or even very heavily smoked at first. Rather, it’s smooth, devoid of any funk that usually comes with oud, and smells exactly like mesquite woods that have been lightly singed. Within seconds, a tiny dusting of saffron appears, and the hint of a dry, red rose nestled deep within the woods. The whole thing lies on a dark base that feels almost balsamic and resinous.
Neither the spice nor the rose is as noticeable as Oumma’s increasingly leathered streak. It utterly captivates me with its mix of sweetness, muskiness, and subtle animalic touches. Slightly honeyed in feel, the leather is a little raw and really evokes for me a horse’s saddle. To be clear, I’m not saying that Oumma smells of sweaty horses. It does not. But there is a leatheriness to the fragrance that is lightly animalic with its slightly sweet muskiness, and it somehow translates as vaguely “horsey” in the most subtle way imaginable.
Oumma slowly shifts as time passes. The rose seems subtler than ever, more like a suggestion and a wisp fading in the wind. The cedar comes out in its own right after 10 minutes, but the main woody element to my nose is the oud with its mysterious, strange similarity to mesquite. Oumma is turning drier with every passing minute, taking on more and more of a smoky, singed aroma. In one test, it also wafted a parched dryness in the base that felt almost like an aromachemical. It was slightly sharp, almost desiccated in feel, though it was a subtle touch. It lurks in the base next to an equally muted hint of something almost tobacco’d, though I suspect that it is merely another facet of the leathery oud.
Up top, the suggestion of saffron grows stronger, taking on a spicy bite that is almost like that of a mild chili or pimento pepper. And, call me crazy, but on two occasions, there was almost a chocolate-y cardamom-like touch to Oumma’s bouquet as well. The first time I detected it, it was fleeting enough for me to think it was all my imagination, but the wisp appeared a second time as well. It adds one more lovely layer to that opening bouquet of multi-faceted, wooded richness.
25 minutes into the perfume’s development, the cade bursts out with great strength. To my nose, cade and birch tar are extremely alike, but cade has a slightly more turpentine, phenolic, oily undertone. Monsieur Lucas finds cade to be more “masculine,” while he sees birch tar as more “feminine.” I don’t know about that. All I can say is that Oumma begins to take on a very heavy oiliness, as if a thick layer of an actual attar oil were lying on my skin. Its smokiness has a subtle tarriness that definitely resembles that in birch, but there is also a quiet suggestion of turpentine lurking deep down below. Meanwhile, the oud’s singed tonalities are turning into woods on fire, emitting a thicker blanket of black smokiness. The rose is now completely dead on my skin.
As a whole, Oumma in its opening hour is a dry, leathered oud with increasingly hefty, billowing cade smoke, subtle touches of different spices, a sweet muskiness, and a touch of tarriness, all upon a dark, vaguely resinous base. It is simultaneously sharp, dry, and musky with a very thick, heavy, oily feel that resembles that of an attar. Like an attar, Oumma’s concentrated nature does not come with enormous sillage. I generally had 3-4 inches of projection, at most, in the opening 30 minutes, regardless of whether I applied 2, 3, or more sprays from my atomizer. That sillage soon softens, and, at the start of the second hour, Oumma generally hovers about 1-2 inches above my skin which is where it stays for hours on end.
Oumma’s development varied on my skin after this point. At some point, usually around the start of the 3rd hour, tiny flickers of jasmine emerge, but they are muted at first and they weren’t consistently a strong feature on my skin each and every time I test the fragrance. In contrast, Oumma’s rose note always pops back up, though it is usually in the background. Once, for a brief moment, Oumma smelled rather like a turpentine, woody rose with intense smokiness. Around the same time, the aromachemical-like dryness disappears quite quickly, there are fluctuating degrees of cedar, and the spices soften over time before fading away around the end of the 3rd hour.
Each time, and in every test, Oumma turns smoother, with much better calibrated, balanced levels of smokiness and dryness. The tarry undertone vanishes at the start of the 4th hour, the leather feels less raw and musky, and Oumma loses its occasionally sharp touches. The fragrance still smells of singed woods, but the fire is no longer roaring away
For the most part, Oumma’s second phase consists of a multi-faceted, smooth, deep wave of relatively dry woodiness dominated by singed woods, followed by very subtle flickers of either jasmine or rose that are fully mixed into the cade smoke and a light touch of sweetness. The whole thing lies atop a smear of golden, almost ambered resins in the base. On one occasion, the jasmine grew quite noticeable, and its sweetness thoroughly tamed the smoky toughness of the cade. On another occasion, the counterbalance seemed to come more from the tolu and peru balsams in the base.
Throughout it all, however, the oud never smells like the agarwood to which I am accustomed in other fragrances. This is not the oud of a Montale, Amouage, or Xerjoff fragrance. There is no funk at all, no “noble rot.” To that extent, it is practically a “clean” oud — one that smells merely like expensive woods that are slightly leathery and musky at first, before turning primarily singed in nature. What was interesting about it was the subtle meatiness lurking underneath at times. In one test, the oud’s aroma in the first hour reminded me of an actual “steak au poivre,” only this one was cooked on a mesquite barbecue grill. On another occasion, however, the oud’s main focus was centered on leather, and nothing else. In all cases, however, it is fully infused with the cade’s birch-like smokiness and smells dry.
Oumma has a third and fourth phase as well. The third stage is where my two versions come much closer to meeting up and merging. The fourth and final one is where they are identical. In the former, the rose comes out to a significant degree. At first, it is a full, deep, multi-faceted damask rose with great smoothness and depth. Like the oud, it is thoroughly infused with the cade’s smokiness. On occasion, the rose feels as though it has been lightly sprinkled with saffron, but the general impression is of a very meaty, rich rose that is fully subsumed within the dry, singed, still slightly leathery woods and the cade. In all instances, however, this version of Oumma is never driven by or centered on the rose. It’s all about the woods.
Oumma’s final phase usually begins somewhere around the start of the 9th hour. On my skin, it is consistently a simple bouquet of dry woodiness with a touch of powder and some vaguely ambered sweetness. The powder is really almost like a granular texture, more than actual powderiness or a perfumed note, but it’s a little hard to explain. Regardless, Oumma’s drydown on my skin is primarily abstract woodiness with powdered dryness. Nothing more. Oumma remains that way until it finally fades away, usually some time well after the 14th hour, depending on how much of the fragrance I applied.
My second version of Oumma begins with the same meaty, mesquite, leathery woodiness, infused with musky sweetness and cade smokiness. The ambered, resinous, cistus labdanum base is much more noticeable, as is the saffron up top. Oumma is significantly less dry, parched, and smoky this time around. The cade is dialed down about 5 notches in this version, if not more. Oumma feels smoother, deeper, warmer, and more finely calibrated or balanced in terms of its various parts.
In this version, Oumma is significantly more floral on my skin for a good chunk of its first stage. The jasmine is the first to come out this time, adding its sweetness and floral touch 75 minutes into the perfume’s development. Shortly thereafter, the rose appears. It is even richer than in the other version, more velvety and sweet. For a brief instance, it carried a little bit of a sour nuance, but generally, it is a blood-red, deep rose. Its prominence fundamentally impacts Oumma’s character on my skin, skewing the perfume’s focus away from the woody, leathered, or smoky elements.
The metamorphosis of the rose is at the heart of this version of Oumma. The flower begins with full-bodied sweetness and stands alone, but soon turns into a leathered, velvety rose with musky, smoked wood, followed by cade smoke and a subtle sprinkling of spices, all above a resinous base. Oumma loses its subtle jasmine touches by the end of the second hour, leaving the rose as the perfume’s only floral star.
Over time, Oumma begins to turn drier and drier, slowly seeping the moisture and juices out of the rose. About 3.5 hours in, Oumma is mostly a soft, deep rose that feels dark brown and almost withered. The cade smoke and leather are much weaker now, but Oumma continues to reflect a dry, mesquite-like woodiness. Slowly, the ambered base starts to emerge, while the jasmine occasionally pops back up for a brief moment to wave hello before disappearing again.
At the start of the 5th hour, Oumma is a dry, withered, decaying, brown rose with amber and woody dryness. There is the first hint of something powdered and grainy that emerges, and this time, it feels almost (but not quite) vanillic in nature. By the time the 8th hour rolls around, Oumma’s rose is powdery, dry, ravaged, and woody in a way that reminds me of the drydown to Guerlain‘s Middle Eastern rose fragrances, namely Encens Mythique d’Orient from the Déserts d’Orient collection.
Oumma’s final stage and drydown are a return back to woodiness. Slowly, very slowly, the rose gives up the fight and dies, leaving only the same powdered, abstract, blurry woods I experienced in my other version. Again, Oumma had enormous longevity. Here, to be precise, it lasted 16.25 hours, though the sillage felt much more intimate in this version when taken as a whole. This time, Oumma hovered just above the skin after 2.75 hours, and I used 3 very large sprays. I think the fact that the cade’s smokiness was so much weaker in this version is one reason why the fragrance feels much softer and tamer. That said, the longevity is really excellent.
ALL IN ALL:
I found one detailed review for Oumma. It is from Persolaise, who spends a good deal of time initially questioning the sincerity or genuineness of Monsieur Lucas’ fascination with the Middle East, his motivations, his personal feelings, and whether he has sold out to claim “his share of petrodollars.” Once he gets to Oumma’s actual aroma, he finds it “gorgeous,” but far from unique. He thinks it is saved from being like every other oriental rose fragrance only by the quality and richness of its ingredients:
Oumma is nothing we haven’t smelt before. So at first sniff, it would seem to suggest that SHL has, in fact, sold out and wants nothing more than to claim his share of petrodollars. The scent is a balsamic, leathery, woody rose, of the sort which can often be detected within a 3-mile radius of Harrods. But as if determined to silence any detractors, Humbert-Lucas has employed two strategies to make the perfume considerably more attention-worthy than most of the other Dubai-centric wannabees.
Firstly, he’s imbued the composition with tremendous richness. His publicity machine would no doubt have us believe that he’s achieved this by using a high proportion of naturals. And perhaps he has. But I’m sure he hasn’t stayed away from the synthetics in his palette either. This doesn’t really matter, because Oumma creates the all-important illusion that it is luxurious and opulent. Maybe it’s the presence of a dry saffron note, maybe it’s the deft handling of the musks in the base, or maybe it’s because SHL really has poured a barrel-ful of rose oil into the stuff. Whatever the reason, the juice rises to the status implied by its gasp-inducing price tag.
Secondly, he’s paid attention to the scent’s structure. Most of these Arabian roses wallow in their base notes, letting any charm they might have had drown within a quicksand of synthetic sandalwoods and bellowing musks. Oumma stands up tall, allowing the different facets of its personality to come to the fore at various stages of its development. My guess is that SHL has given the scent its legs by paying attention to the citruses at the top. Not unlike the function of the bergamot in Shalimar, these pull and stretch the other, heavier elements of the construction, paradoxically causing them to appear weightier than they would have if they’d been left undiluted. In other words, the citruses add contrast.
So yes, […] it would be churlish of me to deny that Oumma is a highly accomplished piece of work, full of the warm-blooded tempestuousness which we’ve come to associate with the ‘exotic’ East.
Obviously, both of the versions of Oumma that I experienced differ widely from what appeared on his skin. I certainly had no citruses at all, let alone a Shalimar-like structure or resemblance. On my skin, Oumma was primarily the dry woody fragrance that Monsieur Lucas intended, though the rose was a partner in one of the instances to some variegated degree. Skin chemistry is clearly going to impact what sort of fragrance you may experience in turn.
There are no other detailed reviews for me to provide you with a more consistent sense of Oumma’s character. The perfume has an entry on Fragrantica, but there are no comments listed as of yet. On Basenotes, one thread contains a brief, passing description of Oumma as dry and woody, but not much more.
I don’t have the official American pricing information for Oumma but, in Europe, the perfume retails for €395 for a 50 ml bottle of pure parfum, just like Oud 777. While that figure comes to $545 at today’s rate of conversion, my experience in the past with European exclusives is that they are always priced lower than the exchange amount. My guess is that Oumma will probably retail for around $495 or $500 in the U.S., but that is only a guess.
At the end of the day, I find Oumma to be interesting, but it doesn’t move me emotionally. My favorite part was the sweet, musky leatheriness of the opening. I loved it, especially because of its animalic, vaguely horsey feel which I found to be evocative and very sexy. (If Burmese oud always smells like that, I have to get my hands on some!) After that, though, my feelings turn to ambivalence. Rose fragrances do nothing for me in general, so that part left me cold, while the heart of singed woodiness didn’t really stand out for me. It’s all very well-done, but I suppose purely smoky, wood-centric fragrances require a little more for me personally. Some touch of sexiness, perhaps, or something a little warmer and ambered. On my skin, Oumma’s primary characteristic was woody, smoked dryness — and that’s not enough for me, especially for €395. In this, as in everything to do with perfume, it’s going to come down to personal tastes and skin chemistry.
All I can say is that you should definitely sample or sniff Oumma if you like very dry, woody fragrances with a cade (or birch-like) darkness, or if you adore smoky Orientals with deep, withered roses like Guerlain’s Encens Mythique. If either of those things sound appealing, Oumma should be available and in more stores quite soon.
Disclosure: Perfume sample courtesy of Stéphane Humbert Lucas. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.